Balzer: Rams Raising Expectations

Sam Bradford (AP/Jeff Roberson)

I really thought Kevin Demoff was crazy. Demoff is the St. Louis Rams' chief executive officer, a man that wears numerous hats in the organization.

So it was that he was a guest on Fox Sports Midwest during a Cardinals-Cubs baseball game this past summer. Demoff was talking about the team's prospects for the 2010 season when he said something that took even me aback.

Demoff said, "I expect us to compete for the division title this season." And no, he wasn't talking about the Cardinals; he was talking about the Rams!

He didn't say he "hoped" the team would compete in the division or that if things fell right, they would have a chance to compete. Nope. He used the word "expect."

A few days later, on the sideline during a training camp practice, I talked with Demoff about the comment, and his explanation for saying it went beyond the belief that the NFC West wasn't exactly a division filled with premier teams.

No; it had more to do with raising expectations. He explained that coach Steve Spagnuolo's biggest goal was creating the atmosphere of belief in his team where they would "expect" to win each week, not "hope" to win.

To a man, he has been successful in doing just that. The Rams opened the season losing by four points to Arizona and by two points to Oakland, but the feeling was different. Still, they had to prove they could win a game. That happened in successive weeks at home against Washington and Seattle, and the expectations became real.

It is revealed in an answer running back Steven Jackson gave as the team headed to its mid-season bye. With the team 4-4, Jackson was asked if before the season he had envisioned a successful first half.

Said Jackson, "We train every offseason to be successful, so to answer your question, yes. I don't go into a season looking to be 1-15."

Still, that attitude had to be filtered to the young players on the roster. It helped that quarterback Sam Bradford played very un-rookie like with a maturity beyond his years. Rodger Saffold stepped up at left tackle. The Rams won a game against Carolina with Renardo Foster playing right tackle in place of Jason Smith. Suddenly, injuries were being overcome, rather than being a reason for losing.

Which brings us to the home stretch of this season. The Rams enter the second half of the schedule with five road games in the final eight. Three of those road games will be against the NFC West starting this weekend in San Francisco. After that game and a home game against Atlanta Nov. 21, comes a string of three road games against Denver, Arizona and New Orleans.

Asked about now having legitimate expectations for the final eight games (the Rams were 3-21 combined after eight games from 2007-2009), Jackson said, "It's very exciting. We always look to a challenge. We're always setting goals for ourselves, so this next month of football is going to be very important for us to get ourselves in a great position to be able to play in the postseason. It's very exciting for me, myself. It's been a long time."

Most important, however, is that the seeds Spagnuolo has been planting since being hired in Jan. 2009 have begun taking root. He and general manager Billy Devaney have put together a roster of players that care about winning, care about their teammates and play hard.

That was one reason Spagnuolo decided against acquiring wide receiver Randy Moss. Sometimes, a talented player is more trouble than he's worth.

This team's work ethic is reflected in something middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said before the mid-season bye.

Asked what he would be doing at the break, Laurinaitis smiled and said, "Watching San Francisco tape." And, even though Bradford was going home to see family in Oklahoma City, Laurinaitis noted that the quarterback made sure to load his laptop with 49ers DVDs before leaving.

Bradford and Laurinaitis are their unit's respective quarterbacks, and that's a good thing for now and the future.

Laurinaitis said of Bradford, "After talking to him for a little bit through the draft process, after he got picked up and getting to know him and becoming friends, he's a guy that I think we have very similar mentalities. He's a perfectionist. He wants to be great for the Rams and when you have your QB doing that I think it trickles down to everybody else. We are very similar in that way. Everything you expect from a No. 1 pick, if you could pick the prototype No. 1 pick and check off all the things you would invest in; he has all those things."

That's as good a reason as any for what Kevin Demoff said. Recommended Stories

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